Fake it ‘til you make it. It’s a phrase used often in our image focused culture. While it may sound a bit odd to consider constructing a version of yourself designed to fit into the art world, this practice is not only universal across pretty much every social and professional arena, it is also just plain human nature.
Every day we wake up and, for those first few seconds perhaps, we aren’t thinking about who we need to be that day. But as the day gets rolling we begin to take on many roles whether we realize it or not. In the course of a day you might make appearances as parent, partner, friend, customer, colleague, instructor, the roles are limitless. For each one, we make subtle adjustments in our behavior and presentation. For instance, you wouldn’t speak to colleagues in the same way you would to your partner or your child, and you wouldn’t speak to them in the same way you would to the cashier at the grocery store. It is a natural human trait to adapt our behavior to each situation. There is a broader view of this which is the overall image we present to the world. Hardly anyone gets up and dresses in the dark, instead we choose the clothing we wish to be seen in each day. We dress one way for a casual Sunday at home, another for a night out with friends, and yet another for professional engagements.
As a professional artist, or indeed a professional of any kind, branding is a critical piece of your success puzzle. While you may think of branding as something reserved for commercial endeavors, you must realize that in a very real way, you as an artist are a commercial endeavor. This is not to say that by becoming a professional you are in any way selling out or cheapening what you do, but it is important to define a clear image of yourself so that potential buyers can easily understand who they are dealing with.
So what on earth does it mean to look like a hip Brooklyn artist and why would you want to do that? The answer is that in fact you don’t have to look like a hip Brooklyn artist. If you are in the middle of Wisconsin, for example, then that would probably be a very confusing image to project. This is merely one paradigm, the hip Brooklyn artist is one well-known model out of many. This particular look can be achieved by shopping in boutiques in Williamsburg, for example and developing a general sense of the style and overall essence of those that move within the Brooklyn art scene.
It is important that while you are considering your personal brand, you must not think of this endeavor as some sort of identity change. Rather, your artist brand should be the best, most polished version of you adapted to move smoothly within the art scene where you intend to establish yourself. While it is perfectly good and natural to consider the many aspects of who you project, from your clothing to your overall interaction with others but it is unwise to attempt a complete character overhaul. This will very likely come off as forced and will be very difficult to maintain.
What goes into a personal brand? Perhaps you want to develop a particular stance or incorporate words into your vernacular. Many people choose to express themselves through their fashion. How you develop this professional identity is entirely up to you. Get to know the art scene and define how you might incorporate its essence into your brand.
Again, it may feel a bit strange to think this way, to consider concrete ways in which you can align yourself with a particular social and professional group. But we do this all the time without thinking and other times we think about it very much indeed. Adaptation is one of the human species’ strongest survival traits. Whether we are adapting to a physical climate, or to a social environment, the objective is the same. We adapt to fit in and we adapt to succeed. As a professional artist, your ability to enter into the art scene where you live and work depends in part on your ability to look as though you belong there. By getting to know what this entails, you can develop your own aesthetic and create a brand that will allow you to schmooze freely and comfortably in order to achieve that ever-important network and soar to new heights of success as an artist. After all, as we have discussed here before, in the art world, it’s all about who you know.